Lawyers for former President Donald Trump and his niece Mary Trump sparred in court Tuesday over whether her lawsuit alleging she was defrauded of millions of dollars in a 2001 family settlement could move forward.
New York state Judge Robert Reed asked pointed questions during the nearly two-hour video hearing over Trump’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
During the hearing, the judge suggested there were several questions around the facts of the case alleged by Mary Trump, including whether her lawyer during the settlement process was biased toward her aunt and uncles, an indication the judge may let the lawsuit move forward to allow both sides to conduct discovery.
Mary Trump alleges “the lawyer she was represented by, and she identifies the particular lawyer, says he was working on behalf of the defendants and not her. That is a factual allegation,” the judge said to attorneys for the Trumps.
“If you dispute that, then we’ve got an issue of fact. The only way of figuring it out is by doing a deposition,” he added.
James Kiley, an attorney for the former President, said Mary Trump didn’t put forward any evidence that the attorney was playing both sides and called that argument “a desperate Hail Mary pass.”
“The plaintiff is seizing on sensationalism and politics to bring a claim that shouldn’t get past the courtroom front door,” Kiley said.
The judge reserved his decision on the motion to dismiss.
In 2020, Mary Trump sued Trump; his sister Maryanne Trump Barry, a retired judge; and the executor of her late uncle Robert Trump’s estate, alleging “they designed and carried out a complex scheme to siphon funds away from her interests, conceal their grift, and deceive her about the true value of what she had inherited.”
Mary Trump alleged the full nature of the alleged fraud only came to light after The New York Times in 2018 published an article titled “Trump Engaged in Suspect Tax Scheme as He Reaped Riches From His Father,” which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting. Mary Trump provided the reporters with 19 boxes of records that she obtained through the 2001 settlement.
Reed appeared to consider Mary Trump’s allegation that she believes she was misled at the time of the settlement about the Trump family business arrangements.
“I’m a little hesitant about the idea of not even allowing them to pursue that,” the judge said. “Her argument is now, in the light of day after the investigation by The New York Times, that it appears that those management entities weren’t just operating to create efficiencies but were operating in a manner that was diminishing Mary Trump’s right and was doing so purposefully.”
A lawyer for Trump Barry, Gary Friedman, said Mary Trump “should have looked a little further and a little deeper and not wait 20 years.”
The 19 boxes of records were a focus of questioning during the hearing with Trump’s attorney suggesting The New York Times reporting did little more than piece together records Mary Trump had all along, making her claims of fraud now too late to pursue under the statute of limitations.
“This was not award-winning journalism. This was ‘let me look at these documents and see what it says,’” said Kiley. He said it was work Mary Trump could have done years earlier. “Everything was out in the open,” he said.
The judge asked Mary Trump’s lawyers how the 19 boxes of material produced award-winning journalism but weren’t enough to cause Mary Trump to investigate.
“Maybe if you acted diligently within six years from the time you got these boxes, Mary Trump could have made some semblance of the allegations she’s making now. What are we to make of that and how does the court excuse that?” Reed asked.
John Quinn, Mary Trump’s lawyer, said, “There’s significant information about what the truth was that was never made available to Mary in the 19 boxes,” such as tax returns and information dug up by the Times through interviews. “Nothing about the Times article suggests those 19 boxes of documents contained all the information from which fraud could be conferred.”